CicLAvia’s October 5th route begins in Echo Park and continues through Boyle Heights on its way to East L.A.
CicLAvia’s October 5th route begins in Echo Park and continues through Boyle Heights on its way to East L.A.

By Sahra Sulaiman and Erick Huerta

“ ¿Conoce CicLAvia?” (Are you familiar with CicLAvia?) and “ ¿Sabe qué es una ciclovía?” (Do you know what a ciclovía is?) were two of the questions SBLA writers Erick Huerta and Sahra Sulaiman found themselves asking Boyle Heights residents and business owners while canvassing the area with representatives of CicLAvia recently.

The goal of the first round of outreach for the October 5th event, set to run from Echo Park to East LA by way of the heart of Boyle Heights, was to give business owners and residents along the route time to prepare alternate parking or business plans around the street closures.

To that end, Volunteer Coordinator Henny Alamillo had armed volunteers Christopher Cameron and Jon Leibowitz with multi-lingual flyers that explained CicLAvia, touted the significant spike in revenue experienced by businesses that engaged event-goers, presented the map of the route, and suggested the myriad ways residents could participate in the event.

All of which would seem to be enough to get the message about CicLAvia across.

But, as Sahra and Erick ascertained (while serving as volunteers/translators), while cycling enthusiasts are largely familiar with the car-free, open streets event, it is still an unfamiliar concept to many, and to non-cyclists, non-English speakers, and lower-income community members, in particular.

The lack of familiarity with CicLAvia in Boyle Heights should not be all that surprising.

Casual observation (supported by some, albeit limited, data) would suggest that the majority of participants in such events are not lower-income and/or minority residents (although, this appears to slowly be changing over time, as well). And, as many of those same residents have limited Internet access and/or are not regular followers of livable streets issues when online, they haven’t seen much in the way of CicLAvia’s outreach campaigns.

But the reactions of the community were about more than just a lack of familiarity with the event.

Sahra found that those residents along St. Louis St. that had heard of CicLAvia weren’t sure that it was something they would be able to participate in. As Boyle Heights is a more family- and pedestrian-oriented community, the association of the event with bicycles made many think they might have to sit on the sidelines and watch as others rolled through their neighborhood. Others thought it might be a race.

For this reason, the one-on-one conversations with folks turned out to be key.

Being able to open the conversation with a description of the event as an effort to convert the streets into a park that families and children could stroll and play in for a day helped make it more relatable and accessible for residents.

In response, those that had small children with them often pointed at the kids and described the challenge of finding spaces where the kids could play safely. The poor condition of the area’s sidewalks, many said, made it hard for kids to use their riding toys around their homes or while the family ran errands.

The conversations were also important in helping people digest the information on the flyers.

Some of those in the immigrant population struggle with reading in Spanish and/or English and are not familiar with the vocabulary associated with livable streets.

And while some of us (OK, maybe just Sahra) are obsessed with maps and accustomed to conceptualizing our neighborhoods or the city as a whole, map-reading is actually an acquired skill. So, for residents unaccustomed to seeing their neighborhood isolated on a 10-mile route map (below), orienting themselves turned out to be a challenge. Once it was explained to them how the route was set up, where potential hubs might be, and where they were located in relation to the rest of the route, most became much more enthusiastic about the event. Many even expressed delight at the idea that there would be such a long stretch to explore.

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Community meeting for October 5th CicLAvia

Date: August 19th, 2014
Time: 7:00pm ”“ 8:00pm
Location: East Los Angeles Public Library 4837 E 3rd St (East L.A. Civic Center Metro stop)
RSVP to attend: Call 213.355.8500 or email

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